Justin Marks says he had two dreams as a child – to win a race at one of NASCAR’s top levels and to climb mountains. But not just any mountains.
One box has been checked. The second? Well, he’s working on it.
Marks is the defending winner of the Mid-Ohio Challenge, the NASCAR XFINITY Series race scheduled for Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) on the 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
He’s also in training toward what he hopes will one day be a trek to the top of Mt. Everest, at 29,029 feet the world’s highest mountain.
“I almost really turned my back on my climbing dream until I won that race at Mid-Ohio,” Marks told NASCAR.com. “I think that next week I started going, ‘I did it; I won a big NASCAR race.’ And I started thinking I had two dreams when I was a kid and I’m halfway there. There’s one left to do.”
Marks, 36, is an accomplished road racer and his experience paid off last year when much of the XFINITY Series race at Mid-Ohio was run in the rain.
It wasn’t a win that was handed to him, however. He was seventh on a late restart with less than 15 laps to go, but made his way to third with 13 circuits remaining. When then-leader Ty Dillon slid off the track 10 laps from the finish, Marks, driving for Chip Ganassi Racing, moved out front.
He had a 17-second lead when a final caution appeared and set up a two-lap run to the finish. He quickly pulled away from Sam Hornish Jr., who finished second, to earn his first career NASCAR victory.
“That was a big deal for me,” Marks said. “It’s a big deal for anybody to win. When these guys win a ton of races – Kyle Busch chasing 200 wins and all this kind of stuff – the winning is just a part of life. But for somebody like me, I did not grow up in a racing family. I’ve not had a lot of rides in my career that were not sponsor-driven. I’ve had some but not a lot. I don’t have a big racing pedigree.
“I’m a race car driver because I grew up as a fan and I wanted to try to do it because my heroes were race car drivers. So when you’ve got someone like me who grows up in the Silicon Valley to a family that’s basically a technology investment family and I just came home one day and decided I wanted to be a race car driver … I went to these races and got Tony Stewart’s autograph, got all these guys’ autographs.
“Fast forward — to win a race in the XFINITY Series at that level for a company like Chip Ganassi Racing, on paper it shouldn’t happen. … People in this town think that guys like me shouldn’t win races. Especially races where there’s not attrition, where you’ve got to race and win it on pace.
“So it was emotional for me because I felt like it was a big deal. It was a big, big deal personally because I beat Sam Hornish Jr. and Ryan Blaney and Ty Dillon and these guys at the end of the race that I just sort of think are better drivers than me.”
Marks has several business interests outside his own racing efforts, including ownership in the GoPro Motorplex karting facility and co-ownership with Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Kyle Larson in Larson-Marks Racing, which fields an entry in the World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series.
He is scheduled to make one more start for the No. 42 teams this year, at Road America later this month, and will also race at Road Atlanta in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race there, making his fourth start of the season in that series for Turner Motorsport.
But much of the fall will be spent in training, he said. He’s already been to Ecuador where he scaled two volcanos above 18,000 feet to gain experience hiking at altitude. In January, he is scheduled to travel to Argentina to climb Aconcagua, the highest mountain in South America at just under 23,000 feet.
“That’s the first real altitude test and if my body performs well at that altitude then it’s time to turn the attention to the Himalayas and Nepal,” he said. “Once we get out there and start getting experience at those extreme altitudes and with oxygen, then it becomes ready to start training for Everest.”
It’s a three- or four-year plan, Marks said, “and I’m basically at the end of Year 1 right now.
“I like exploring what I’m capable of and I think that’s independent of my interest in racing. The human body is an incredible machine and that all of us are only utilizing a small percentage of what we are capable of.
“I think training to climb the highest mountain in the world really, really lets you know what you’re made of. And I guess that’s probably the most interesting aspect for me.”